Wednesday 4 July 2018

Carrying On with … A Doctor in The House!

This is part of a brand new series of blogs looking back at the wonderful series of British comedy films - the Doctor … series. There were seven Doctor films produced at Pinewood Studios between 1954 and 1970, all with Betty Box and Ralph Thomas at the helm. With Betty being Peter Rogers' wife and Ralph the brother of Gerald Thomas, there were bound to be a fair few Carry On connections.

These medical comedy films were extremely popular at the time and while perhaps they do not have the lasting appeal of the Carry Ons, there is no doubting their classic status. Always looking more lavish than their sister films in the Pinewood stable, they did share a cosy ensemble feel with many familiar faces appearing again and again over the years.

So let's start off today by looking at the very first in the series, the brilliant, evergreen Doctor in The House from way back in 1954.

What's it about?

The story, based on the novel by Richard Gordon, follows the fortunes of Simon Sparrow, starting as a new medical student at the fictional St Swithin's Hospital in London. His five years of student life, involving drinking, dating women, and falling foul of the rigid hospital authorities, provide many humorous incidents.
Simon's friends cajole him into a series of disastrous dates, first with a placidly uninterested "Rigor Mortis", then with Isobel, a woman with very expensive tastes, and finally with Joy, a nurse at St Swithin's. After a rocky start, he finds he likes Joy a great deal.
The climax of the film is a rugby match with a rival medical school during Simon's fifth and final year. After St Swithin's wins, the other side tries to steal the school mascot, a stuffed gorilla, resulting in a riot and car chase through the streets of London. 

Who's in it?

This first film in the series introduced us to many characters who would appear throughout the run, on and off. It also confirmed the star status of its leading man, Dirk Bogarde, who played Simon Sparrow. Playing Simon's fellow students were Kenneth More, Donald Sinden and Donald Houston while the unforgettable James Robertson Justice took on the role of the fearsome Sir Lancelot Spratt, a character he'd become synonymous with for the rest of his life.

The film also boasted two delightful leading ladies in Muriel Pavlow, playing Joy and Kay Kendall, fresh from success in Genevieve, in the role of Isobel. 

Carry On faces?

Quite a few! Making the first of several appearances in the Doctor series is the wonderful Joan Sims, here playing the eye catching cameo role of Nurse Rigor Mortis! It was a small part but it really did help establish Joan in films and led to many more comedy roles for Betty and Peter at Pinewood. 

As I've already mentioned, future Carry On Jack star Donald Houston was one of the main stars of the film, playing Welsh rugby obsessed student Taffy Evans. Another actor making the first of several appearances in the series is Carry On semi-regular Harry Locke, here playing Jessup. Harry went on to play supporting roles in the first three Carry Ons with a medical theme.

The original Carry On leading lady, Shirley Eaton, makes the first of two appearances in the Doctor films with her role here as Milly Groaker. This marked one of Shirley's earliest film performances. And playing Shirley's mother in the film is another very familiar face, Joan Hickson.

Cyril Chamberlain, a reliable supporting actor in the first seven Carry Ons, plays a Policeman while Brian Oulton, a great addition to the casts of Carry On Nurse, Constable, Cleo and Camping, pops up as a Medical Equipment Salesman. Finally, playing another salesman is that instantly recognisable character actor and co-star in Carry On Spying, the superb Richard Wattis.

Did you know? 

The film was nominated for four BAFTAs in 1955, winning a Best Actor Award for star Kenneth More.

Nicholas Phipps, who wrote the screenplay based on Richard Gordon's book, also plays the role of the Magistrate in the film. Gordon also has an uncredited role as an Anaesthetist.

Apparently Robert Morley was first choice to play Sir Lancelot Spratt however Box and Thomas refused to pay the £15000 fee his agent demanded. The part then went to Robertson Justice for a fraction of this fee.

The film was a huge success, recouping its original budget within six weeks of initial release. Box Office receipts confirm that the film was seen by over 15 million people, a third of the entire British population at the time.

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1 comment:

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